Peacemakers

2016.05.31

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
 for they will be called sons of God.”
(Matthew 5:9)

Reflection:
Peace is central to the message of the Gospels and to the revelation of God. God is seen as a God of peace and the giver of peace. Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace, the one who would ‘proclaim peace to the nations’ and who promised His peace to His disciples. And as Paul taught

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)

 With Jesus therefore as the great Peace-maker in reconciling us to God it is no wonder that peace-making should be an important part of the new Christian character. Scripture makes it clear to us.

  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22)
  • “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”  (Colossians 3:15)
  •  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18)

 In the letter to Timothy Paul links peace, amongst others, with a pure heart – one which is single or undivided – that is, totally focussed on and committed to God and not at war within itself with competing desires and loyalties.

 The peace-making to which Jesus refers would have three aspects. The first would be to do nothing to disturb our new relationship with God, but rather to honour and seek its development through our love and obedience. The second would be to live in harmony with ourselves – trusting God for His love, wisdom and salvation and, as best we can, allowing Him to develop us as people pure in heart, undivided in our loyalty to Him. The third would be in relation to those around us – both Christian and others.

 It is important to recall Jesus directives to us – to love God, to love our neighbour, to love one another and to love our enemies. These commands relate not only to our actions but our thoughts as well. We have to be careful how we think of others, speak of others and act towards others – or fail to act. Nothing can disturb our own peace quite as easily as someone else’s comments or deeds – and we may find that not only have we descended back to the level of the world but we have done so with great passion and enthusiasm! The way up again can be very humbling and painful. Peace-making starts within our hearts and minds and these have to be right themselves.

 The progression of the Beatitudes themselves is so informative. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful and now – in its deliberate place – the peacemakers. Having learned to see ourselves in a completely new way we can now look at others and seek not their destruction but their peace – with God, with themselves and with each other.

 Whilst peace will not always be possible in all circumstances, and within and between all people, we are nevertheless to see it as a priority. There will be many times where we can make a positive contribution and be led by the Spirit into creative ways and methods of preserving and promoting peace. The starting point may often stem from the peace and love that others may perceive in us.

Response:
If this is what God wants then this is what I must let Him make of me.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, bless me please with Your peace and help me to become more of a peace-sharer and peacemaker – for Your sake. Amen.

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Pure in Heart

2016.05.30

“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.”
(Matthew 5:8)

Reflection:
The heart, in Scripture, was seen as the centre of the personality. It was the centre of everyone’s being and the source of every activity – whether mental, physical or emotional. Man’s troubles were seen to stem from this centre.

“The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?  (Jeremiah 17:9.KJV)

Jesus criticised the Pharisees accusing them of being ceremonially clean externally but with unclean hearts, full of extortion and wickedness. He compared then to ‘white-washed tombs’- good looking on the outside but filled with death within. Luther, commenting on this beatitude, said that in fact it did not matter if men such as labourers and blacksmiths were clothed in dirt as those who pondered God’s word and obeyed it would be ‘pure in heart’ in His eyes.

However, in its context within the Sermon on the Mount, and with reference to the rest of Scripture, it seems that Jesus would have had more in mind. Without excluding the inward and moral aspects of it He would be referring also to the whole question of their relationship with God. Professor Tasker has explained it as ‘the single-minded, who are free from the tyranny of a divided self.’ This would relate also to Jesus later comment that a person cannot serve two masters,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

The single-hearted person is seen as being ‘utterly sincere’ in his whole relationship with and commitment to God. His heart will be totally focussed on and devoted to God. So David would pray,

  • Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:11-12)
  • “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

It also explains the first Great Commandment which calls us to love God ‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Another way of putting it would be to say with every fibre of your being.

Clearly this is beyond both our honest will and our own ability. However, by the grace of God, we have divine help in the form of the Holy Spirit. As we look increasingly towards God for help and open ourselves to Him, the Spirit is enabled to work.

  • “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
  • “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

Here at the central point of the Beatitudes we find this vital and telling truth. It reminds us that we cannot afford to be casual about our relationship with God, nor can we afford to be casual about our attitude to sin in our lives. In His love He has dealt with our sin. By His grace we have His Holy Spirit to transform us from within. New life with God is ours for the living – how can we hold back!

Response:
Turn to God and ask for help.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I want to give you an undivided heart and to live in and from Your love. Please help me. Amen.

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The Merciful

2016.05.27

“Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.”
(Matthew 5:7)

 Reflection:
Jesus calls us not only towards a new life but to a new nature as well. Our characters as the sons and daughters of God are to reflect the character of Jesus Himself. This will not be something that we achieve through our own efforts but through our openness to, and co-operation with, the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. The Beatitudes describe certain aspects of this character and the emphasis throughout is placed upon being rather than doing. In looking at them we can see where we are headed and also where we need to bring areas of our lives to God for His forgiveness, healing and help.

 Where grace is associated with men in their sins mercy is associated with them in their misery – and desires to take some action to alleviate the suffering. Jesus story of the Good Samaritan turning aside to help a man who had been beaten and robbed is a good example. It also tells us that very often the suffering that God wants to address through us is right before us. This was certainly the case with Jesus Himself and He did not have to go looking for people who needed His help, comfort and healing. He had mercy on each and everyone who approached Him.

 God’s mercy towards us is incomparable with any need that we might face. From His action in sending His Son to save us, to the death of Jesus on the Cross, to Jesus cry for mercy for those who crucified Him and to the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, God has showered us with His love. As He has loved us so He calls us to love others. As He has had mercy on us so He wishes us to have mercy on others – not because they deserve it but because He loves them. Such is His association with them that Jesus could say,

“The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

 The Commands of love that Jesus affirmed and to which He added, the Beatitudes, the Fruit of the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit together with the model of Jesus Himself remind us that we are not to be as the world is.  We are, by our new natures, to be radically different – as different as a light shining in the darkness. It is this vision that tells us something about the aim and purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives, both individually and collectively. We are not called just to do things for Jesus but to become people through whom His love and character are revealed.

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Response:
To whom can I show God’s love and mercy today?

Prayer:

Thank you Lord so much that You have had mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

 ———————

Hunger and Thirst

2016.05.26

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”

(Matthew 5:6)

Reflection:
The first four beatitudes reveal a spiritual progression for the Christian. Each one leads on to the succeeding one from the platform of the previous one. The starting point is the acknowledgement of our complete and utter spiritual bankruptcy before God – blessed are the poor in spirit. Then comes the mourning over our sins, as well as over our own fallen nature, together with the fallen state of the world with its reign of sin and death – blessed are those who mourn. The third state of meekness is due to our acknowledged spiritual poverty and imperfection and for it to affect our behaviour towards God and others – blessed are the meek.

Now Jesus leads us further as He directs us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is to be the characteristic of all God’s people. They are not to look only into themselves and regret what they see – they are also to see the sin and its related horrors around them. These would include the violence and abuse, the poverty and degradation, the stunted lives and spirits, and the rejection and apathy towards God. They should lead us to long for healing, change and justice. But even more, just as these are the symptoms of something far deeper, we should deeply long for the light of God to enter the lives of both victims and perpetrators, with the same urgent pain as that of a person desperately in need of food and water – as Jesus did upon the cross. So strong would that hunger and thirst become that we would look at a situation of need or evil and say, ‘that is totally unacceptable’ and do something.

It is a part of this new state of the Christian that, unlike the world with its ceaseless pursuit of power, possessions and pleasure, their focus becomes that of ‘seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’ It would include living for the realisation of the prayer Jesus taught us – that God’s name be treasured and glorified, God’s kingdom be established and recognised and that God’s will be recognised and fulfilled, here on earth as it is already in heaven – and starting with and in us. This righteousness then is a righteousness of people’s relationship with God as well as a righteousness of their character and conduct before Him.

 Clearly it is not enough for us to mourn over past sin – we must also hunger and thirst for future righteousness in both our own lives and in the lives of those around us. This will be revealed in an increasing desire to be free from sin, to be free from the power of sin and to be free from the very desire for sin. In fact it becomes a longing to be holy and as close as possible to the model and character of Jesus Himself, as we reveal the fruit of the Spirit in thought, word and deed.

The starting point as always is prayer. Firstly, that God would develop that hunger and thirst within us – seeing that is what He wants – and direct it towards particular situations wherever they may be. Secondly, for the people or situations concerned – and to persevere in prayer for as long as it takes. Thirdly, to ask God what He wants us to do, and in some cases just to do the obvious. It’s about caring enough to act – because God cares and He acted. Luther put it this way,

The command to you is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out, if that is where you have been. And to offer your hands and feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do…….If you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can.’

And ‘they will be filled.’ This is not because, like the world, they seek happiness or even blessedness. These will not be found by themselves – instead the happy/ blessed state comes from seeking after what God wants for us, in this case righteousness.

Response:
Do not be friends with, or luke-warm about, sin and evil

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live fully as Your child. Amen

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The Meek

2016.05.25

“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”
(Matthew 5:5)

Reflection:
The Greek word here translated as ‘meek’ can also mean gentle, humble, considerate and courteous. It carries too the implication of the self-control through which these qualities are expressed. There is no sense in the word of either weakness or effeminacy. The New English Bible therefore translates it as ‘gentle spirit.’

Dr Martyn Lloyd –Jones has said that it denotes a humble and gentle attitude to others which is determined by a true estimate of ourselves. He goes on to say, ‘Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others …. The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.’ Recognising his own weakness and ignorance this then would lead him to be gentle, humble, sensitive and patient in all his dealings with others.

To assess the truth of our understanding we have to look to Jesus Himself. We do see Him exercising these qualities in His dealings with others, in His trial before Pilate and during His hours on the cross. However, nowhere does it appear as a weakness. On the contrary His strength and courage are also seen in His public confrontations with the Pharisees, His clearing of the Temple and, again, on the cross. His meekness was certainly not due to weakness or to fear.

The meek and gentle people of the world are, with some notable exceptions, so often ignored or sidelined by others, and excluded from the worldly marks of success. However Jesus, in referring to them here, promises that they, and not the self-promoters, ‘will inherit the earth.’ This is not a completely new idea because through the Psalmist God had already hinted at it:

  • “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land” (Psalm 37:9)
  • “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace” ( Psalm 37:11)

The great truth behind all these statements is that it is God who owns and possess all of creation and everything in it and He may dispose of it as and when He wishes. So too the Christian knows that in Christ he or she already possesses all things that have lasting value, and that they will inherit all the blessings that God has prepared for them in the life to come. Whilst it is not an invitation to laziness it is not for us to strive for success, wealth, status or to fulfil for ourselves the promises of God. They come to us from His great and abundant love, and in the God of that love we trust and rest. Out of this trust and confidence in God we can then be people of a gentle spirit. As the Psalmist began the great Psalm 37,

  • Do not fret
  • Trust in the Lord
  • Delight yourself in the Lord
  • Commit your way to the Lord
  • Be still before the Lord

Whilst the world worries, stresses and strives around us we are to be the ones who stand out because we have a different approach, different values and a different spirit within us. This gentleness of spirit may take time to grow and develop into its fullness as it is so contrary to the worldly way of things. It will be tested according to developments in our lives. However, knowing that it is of God, we can pray for it and look to develop it with His help. Also we will find that the closer we draw to Him the more we will trust and find our peace and rest in Him.

Response:
Jesus promised us the peace that passes understanding. Pray that it may grow within you.

Prayer:

Father, please help me to find my peace, joy and fulfilment in You and in Your great love for me. Amen.

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Those who mourn

2016.05.24

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4)

Reflection:
The Greek word here translated as ‘mourn’ is said to be the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is used for the mourning of the dead – ‘the passionate lament for one who was loved.’

In this context the beatitude is primarily about the same heart-felt grief of the person who recognises their own sin and unworthiness before God. The ‘passionate lament’ is for the loss of the person who might have been, for the innocence, righteousness and self–respect that has gone together with the opportunities that have been wasted – and for the pain it has caused God. It is ongoing as we battle against sin and our weakness, conceding at times our own utter helplessness and hopelessness. Paul acknowledged and wrestled with this, ending up with the great cry,

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

If the first beatitude is about confession – admitting our spiritual poverty before God – then this next one is about repentance. It is about a truth that has flooded into the darkness within and revealed for the first time the enormity and horror of sin.

Thomas Cranmer in his 1662 Prayer Book wrote the prayer that included the words ‘We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.’ In today’s world both the ‘acknowledge’ and the ‘bewail’ seem to have disappeared, and the cross is taken for granted.   However, God’s grace was not without an enormous cost to Him and to Jesus. We should recognise that it is our sin that brought Jesus to that suffering and death and feel within us the horror of our involvement even as we bow our heads in awe and wonder at God’s great love and gift to us. When the Psalmist wrote ‘a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ he was recognising a profound truth. In its terrible reality the horror and enormity of sin should break our hearts like nothing else, for no other bereavement is, in itself, able to separate us from God and His Love.

And then, like the sun breaking through from behind the storm clouds, comes the blessed and life-changing Truth – the truth of Jesus our Saviour, Redeemer and Comforter – holding out His hands to welcome, lift and embrace us. And not only the first time! Every time after that when we have fallen, and when all that we can manage is to crawl over to Him and either haul ourselves up by His robes or just lie with our head upon His feet, the same welcome, comfort and assurance is there. That is when we may experience the true joy of which He speaks, and to which Peter refers when he talks of our being filled with an ‘inexpressible and glorious joy.’

As we lift our heads again, we look out into the world with new eyes and see and weep also for the sin, pain and suffering that we find there – and turn to God on its behalf. Jesus wept over Jerusalem – the city whose people rejected Him and brought destruction and devastation upon themselves – and He cried out to God on behalf of those who nailed Him to the cross. Ezra wept, confessed and threw himself down before the house of the Lord, and the false teachers in the churches brought tears to Paul’s eyes. There is so much that should bring tears to our eyes, mourning to our hearts and prayers to our lips in a world that seems intent on racing into darkness.

There is only one way to turn. That is towards the loving, beautiful and gracious Lord who is already reaching out for us. Today and tomorrow, and the days that follow, our comfort is to be found in Him, and in Him alone. For us and for our sins we may find the immediate and close forgiveness and consolation of the Lord. For His Church in this world there is both the promise of His presence and the blessed hope of His coming again in all His glory. Thank You Jesus!

Response:
Sin is not just naughty – it is a heart-piercing slap in the face to God.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, forgive me and forgive this world – save me and save this world – open my eyes to Your truth, and open the eyes of this world. Amen.

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Poor in spirit

2016.05.23

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3)

Reflection:
Jesus great teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to His disciples. He paints a picture of the qualities that would begin to reveal themselves in His followers both individually and together. They stand in stark contrast to the ways of the world.

The teaching commences with the Beatitudes, the blessings in which constitute the privileges of the Christians concerned – both now and in the future. God bestows them on the ones in whom He is working the character described. In humility and awe we discover that these are not just statements but joyful acknowledgements of a grace and truth that nothing can destroy. It is all God’s grace from start to finish.

Right at the beginning of the Sermon Jesus challenges and refutes all human judgements and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is given to the ‘poor’ – not those full of themselves and their wealth, power, intellectualism, social standing and independence.

Jesus drew towards Himself those who knew that they were so poor in a real and spiritual sense that they could offer nothing and claim nothing – the publicans, prostitutes and rejects of society. All they could do was to cry to God for mercy, and He heard them. The publican in Jesus parable cried out with downcast eyes, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And, as Calvin wrote, ‘He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.’ And so here we also find Peter – a different person after the resurrection from the one who had boasted beforehand. Their understanding is that ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling.’

To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty before God, to be emptied completely of self-importance, achievement and our attachment to and dependence upon material things – so empty in fact that there is also no basis for comparison with any other person.  Emptied completely of self, and turning to put our trust in the Lord, we open the way to the real fullness of the Spirit.

The glorious wonder of it all is that He does have mercy. And, through the wonderful sacrifice of Jesus, He changes our rotten garments for the robes of salvation, our exclusion as outcasts for the intimacy of sons and daughters, our poverty for His richness and our death for His eternal life, love and joy. It is His Kingdom instead of our imaginary one, His all for our nothing. How blessed we are indeed – and when we accept the reality it becomes a shout of wonder and joy!

Response:
Decide to step increasingly away from worldly attitudes and values into the freedom of Christ.

Prayer:

Lord, help me not to look for excuses or exceptions but simply to acknowledge my truth before you and allow You to reveal Your truth to me. Thank You Jesus. Amen.

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Photo: (c) Catherine Bondonno

The Lord

2016.05.20

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
(Philippians 2:9-11)

Reflection:
The earliest, shortest and simplest of all the Christian creeds are the words “Jesus is Lord.” Those who made this confession in the early church were baptised and welcomed into the Christian community.

Paul also wrote that

  • “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
  • “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

The statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ signifies both a conviction and a commitment on the part of the speaker. The conviction is that Jesus is truly Lord, and Lord of all, and that there is no other. The commitment is that Jesus is and will be Lord in all aspects and dimensions of the speaker’s life.

This is what salvation is all about, and it happens as the Holy Spirit leads us to both the acknowledgement and commitment involved. The rest of our life here is to increasingly reflect and live Jesus as Lord at all times and in all ways – and this not in our own strength but under the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Response:
Look to your life. Ask God to help you in the areas where you still struggle and resist Him.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus You are Lord and always will be. Help me to trust You more completely as the Lord of my Life and to live in Your love and under Your direction. Amen.

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My Salvation

2016.05.19

“The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.”
(Psalm 118:14)

 Reflection:
‘He has become my salvation.’  This Lord, who is at once Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not one who merely watches from a distance. He is personal and the God who has come to us – to seek us, find us, help us and lead us home through His awesome death and resurrection. Every good thing promised and prophesied in the Bible has found its truth and completion in the Lord Jesus – and through the Cross.

He has sought, called and embraced each one of His beloved in His eternal love. Once we have given ourselves back to Him no one and nothing can ever separate us. His great promise, fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit, is to be with us always – in our good times and our bad times – and wherever we may be on our journey.

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
  • “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy– to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

He is my strength for life and for living.
He is my song of delight and of witness.
He is my present and my eternal salvation.
He is my Lord, my King and my God –

and my great Love.

I love you, O Lord ..
my strength, my song
and my salvation.

Response:
Learn it – reflect on it – sing it

Prayer:

Thank You Lord – so very much. Amen.

—————

 

Sing!

2016.05.18

“The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.”
(Psalm 118:14)

Reflection:
‘The Lord is my song.’

Humans have over the years composed many songs, not a few of which have been to glorify themselves. However, as our eyes are opened to the wonderful truth of the Lord, and our hearts and spirits respond to the revelation of His love and salvation, we may discover that one song rises joyfully above all the others.

The worship of God is the sweetest of all, and often it is enough just to sing out the name of Jesus. For me true worship must rise like a soaring eagle up into the heavens, and then descend into complete and holy silence  – where it is enough just to whisper again and again the one precious ‘name above all names’ – and then to be completely silent and silently complete in the stillness of the Spirit.

Also, and whenever I can, I love to ‘sing out’ in speech the wonders of this God of Love and of the love of God. He is truly ‘beautiful beyond description’ and, when I let Him, ‘my all in all.’ I have many stories to tell of God’s relationship with me – of His love, presence, help, forgiveness and sharing of Himself. They all form a part of ‘my song.’

Response:
Recall and record some of the ways in which God has blessed you. Thank and praise Him for them. There are some wonderful songs and hymns that can be downloaded from ITunes – and the lyrics will be on the Internet. Use them if you wish as an aid.

Prayer:

Touch my spirit Lord with Your beauty and Your love. Help me to respond as You lead me into worship and the wonder of Your presence. Amen.

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Phot0: (c) Catherine Bondonno